Maha Maamoun: Cairoscapes – Untitled #1 & Untitled #5, 2003
Courtesy of Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg
The emphatically wide aspect ratio catches the eye. It makes one think of an observation slit, a panorama or a frieze. The slit negates the long shot; it is the detail that counts. But what does this excerpted detail show? Floral patterns on dress fabric, next to a predominantly gray urban space: asphalt, concrete and the metal panels of cars. The panorama aims at the whole. This image format of the Enlightenment was once directed at the city, the metropolis of the 18th century, captured in a proudly sweeping gesture. At that time, cities were called London, Paris or Rome. And Cairo? The African-Arab megalopolis is too dynamic, too complex to submit to the panorama format. But if the whole cannot be had as a whole, can at least the telling detail foreshadow the whole? Are the floral patterns, in other words, a symptom? In addition to the landscape format, the flatness of the photography is striking. There is no depth of field; figure and ground merge. Shapes and colors join to form a band, an ornament, a caption. And it tells of what?